Be Prepared to Return from Studying Abroad!
So you’ve come back from your study abroad trip. You’ve had an amazing time discovering a whole new world and you have some hilarious stories and daring adventures to tell. You can’t wait to step off the plane and run to the nearest MacDonald’s to order a real American hamburger. You want to see your friends and family and tell them all that you’ve experienced. At last—you’re back!
But, sooner or later, you may discover that it’s not quite as simple to adjust back home as you thought it would be. Your friends are getting sick of hearing you say, “When I was in….” The food back home is great, but suddenly you realize you miss the sights, sounds, and flavors abroad. You just want to go back.
Whether you experience any of the above thoughts and emotions or something else entirely, you need to be honest with yourself—it’s not always easy to return. So as you transition back home, we hope the following resources will prove helpful to you.
JBU Counseling Center The Counseling Center provides students with a listening ear and a helping hand to move past obstacles and difficulties in life. As you work through this transition, the Counseling Center can be a wonderful resource to help you and work alongside you.
International Programs Office Stop by and tell us about your experiences! All of us at the International Office would love to hear your stories and to help you adjust back to life in the US.
Tips for Personal Emotional Re-entry
1. Bring closure to your time abroad
Be sure to say a proper goodbye to the people you met, the places you lived and visited, and even the foods you ate while abroad. Don't leave conflict unresolved or conversations unfinished. Instead, take the time to craft a meaningful goodbye that will give you the peace to leave and move on. This quote from The Life of Pi communicates some of the significance of saying goodbye.
I wept like a child. It was not because I was overcome at having survived my ordeal, though I was. Nor was it the presence of seeing humans again, though that too was very moving. I was weeping because Robert Parker had left me so unceremoniously. What a terrible thing to botch a farewell. I am a person who believes in form, in the harmony of order. Where we can, we must give things a meaningful shape. For example – I wonder – could you tell my jumbled story in exactly one hundred chapters, not one more, not one less? I’ll tell you, that’s one thing I hate about my nickname (Pi), the way that number runs on forever. It’s important in life to conclude things properly. Only then can you let go. Otherwise you are left with words you should have said but never did, and your heart is heavy with remorse.
That bungled good bye hurts me to this day. I wish so much that I’d had one last look at him in the lifeboat, that I’d provoked him a little, so that I was on his mind. I wish I had said to him then – yes, I know, to a tiger, but still – I wish I had said, ‘Richard Parker, its over. We have survived. Can you believe it? I owe you more gratitude than I can express. I couldn’t have done it without you. I would like to say formally: Richard Parker, thank you. Thank you for saving my life. And now go where you must. You have known the confined freedom of a zoo most of your life; now you will know the free confinement of a jungle. I wish you all the best with it. Watch out for Man. He is not your friend. But I hope you remember me as a friend. I will never forget you, that is certain. You will always be with me, in my heart. What is that hiss? Ah, our boat has touched sand. So farewell, Richard Parker, farewell. God be with you.
Martel, Yann, (2001). Life of Pi
Journal, draw, take pictures, or write songs and stories about your experience. As you think back over your time abroad, ask yourself some of the following questions:
What were the experiences that you enjoyed the most? What were the most difficult?
What were the most important lessons you learned that you'll never forget? What new insights did you gain, not only about the world but also about yourself?
What memories make you laugh? Cry?
What was your biggest cultural success? Proudest moment while abroad?
In his book River Teeth, David James Duncan suggests that the deepest moments of our life are like the decomposition of a tree in a river. Initially, Duncan writes, the tree decomposes, releasing its nutrients back to the river and soil.
“There are, however, parts of every drowned tree that refuse to become part of the cycle. There is, in every log, a series of cross-grained, pitch-hardened masses where long-lost branches once joined the tree’s trunk. Knots, they’re called, in a piece of lumber. But in a bed of a river, after the parent log has broken down and vanished, these stubborn masses take on a very different appearance, and so perhaps deserve a different name. River teeth is what we called them as kids, because that’s what they look like.
Our memory of experience, our individual parts, are like trees fallen in a river…and a story – a good shared story – is a transfusion of nutrients from the old river log of memory into the eternal now of life. But as the current of time keeps flowing, the aging log begins to break down. Once-vivid impressions begin to rot, years run together…chunks of the logs begin to vanish, completely…there are, however, small parts of every human past that resist this natural cycle: there are hard, cross-grained whorls of memory that remain inexplicably lodged in us long after the straight grained narrative material that housed them has washed away…these are our river teeth – the time defying knots of experience that remain in us after most of our autobiographies are gone. These are the moments and stories that are the core of who we are.”
Duncan, David James. (1996). River Teeth.
As you think back on your time abroad, consider what moments you would consider the "river teeth" of your study abroad experience. What moments will enter the core of your being, what memories will linger in your dreams in the depths of the night? Remember and record those experiences for yourself.
Talk to others about your time abroad. Share with your family and friends--although don't bore them to the point of tears by telling them the same stories time after time! Consider writing a blog or submitting stories of your travel to magazines. Share your photographs, drawings, songs, and stories with others.
4. Connect with Friends
Just like when you went abroad, be careful not to isolate yourself from others. Perhaps your friends don't "get it" and don't realize how amazing and impacting your trip was. Rather than focusing on what your friends don't understand, instead work on making new memories with them. And remember to listen to your friends' stories--they have had experiences while you've been traveling. Also, don't be afraid to make new friends. Perhaps your experience abroad will lead you to hang out with a new group of people. Embrace those new friendships!
5. Treat Siloam as a study abroad experience
After your time abroad, Siloam Springs will seem like a tiny and boring little town. However, try to see your time here through the lens of studying abroad. What if Northwest Arkansas was brand-new to you? What cultural artifacts or interesting sights would you find? Consider doing a treasure hunt with your friends to see who can get to all of the exciting Siloam locations first--like the library and Walmart. If you search hard enough, you may find some hidden gems to appreciate even in Siloam!
Tips for Academic and Professional Re-entry
1. Learn more
If you feel like you've barely scratched the surface of your study abroad experience, then look for ways to explore more, even as part of your classes. For example, choose a paper topic that's related to a problem or experience you saw on your study abroad trip. You might even want to pursue independent study to dig deeper into the culture and customs and history of the country in which you studied abroad.
2. Leverage your experience for your career
Request a letter of recommendation from your study abroad leader. Your study abroad leader will have seen you in unusual situations, dealing with problems that took you outside of your comfort zone. Their voice is one that employers are likely to pay attention to.
Highlight your international experience on your resume. The Career Tips page on the University of Arkansas has a page with tips for utilizing your study abroad experience on your resume, in interviews, and to help you further your career.
Top 10 Reentry Challenges California Lutheran University lists the top ten challenges you'll face as you reenter the US, from boredom to reverse homesickness. It also includes tips on adjusting to life back home.
What's Up With Culture? This detailed mini-course from the University of the Pacific provides information and exercises to help you get the most out of your study abroad experience. Its section on re-entry is quite phenomenal. The course has a ton of information, so it's not for the faint of heart, but everything is extremely helpful. Be sure to check it out!